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Deep rivers

Kannan M.
Jennifer Clare

Classical Tamil

Aruṇakirinātar: the return of Murukaṉ

Texte intégral

  • 1 This text slightly expands the annual report on the lectures delivered at EPHE in Paris by F. Gros (...)

1The aim of this series of lectures1 was to focus on two poems by Aruṇakirinātar, whose complete works are dedicated to the celebration of Murukaṉ, alias Skanda or Subrahmanya, the god who is the object of the most popular Bhakti cult in Tamil Nadu. We have three reasons to insist on Aruṇakirinātar. 1) As a poet he is the symbol of a new style and new rhythms that were to last for centuries. 2) As a religious author he is at the heart of a devotional corpus to Murukaṉ that equals in popularity the earlier Bhakti corpuses which are the pride of Tamil literature. 3) The songs of this great hymnologist represent a unique landmark between the singing of Tēvāram and the musical renewal of the 17th century.

  • 1 Mouton, The Hague, 1978.
  • 2 Pondicherry, PIFI, 1978.
  • 3 Un texte de la religion kaumara, le Tirumurukarrupatai, Pondicherry, PIFI, 1973.

2Several recent research studies have attempted to throw more light on the intricate Tamil religious phenomenon of Murukaṉ which has an altogether local dimension, deeply rooted in the local folk culture, even though always described in high literary style, (including the ancient celebration of the god, with blood shedding rituals and frenetic dancing by his priests, the vēlaṉ) and also a pan-Indian dimension on which the Sanskrit sources, both the Epics and the Puranas, are major well known texts. Equally well known is the comparatively ancient iconography of the god in North and North-East India. The study by an American author, Fred Clothey, The many faces of Murukaṉ, the history and meaning of a South Indian god,1 was released almost simultaneously with the thesis by Françoise l’Hernault, L’iconographie de Subrahmanya au Tamilnad.2 A few years earlier, Jean Filliozat had translated into French the most classical Tamil text on Murukaṉ3 and, a little later, Kamil Zvelebil’s own English version was serialised in the Journal of Tamil Studies (vol.9 to 11, 1976-1977); the latter, however, ignored the Sanskrit data which constitutes the original and essential contribution of Jean Filliozat. Indeed, Filliozat rightly reminded us of the antiquity of Kumara in the brahminical Sanskrit tradition, “his being a part of Rudrāgni’s very substance”, and of his presence in ancient Cambodia under the name of Kanmin (“the Young One”), a Khmer equivalent of Murukaṉ and Kumara.

  • 4 Filliozat, work quoted, p. XXVIII.
  • 5 Actually it is by a gloss, in ch. VI, at the end, p. 201, Nirnaya Sagar Press edition, Bombay, 1897
  • 6 In fact, in ch. 49, 46-47, the goddess Carcika is said to reside on mount Haingulata.
  • 7 1970, Vol.2, n. 121 to vol. 1, pp. 82-30.

3While on this subject, let us also give its full significance to the hypothesis of Filliozat on the etymology of a designation of Durgā, Koṭ(ṭ)avi (most often glossed but not explained by nagna strī “naked woman”), which he derives from her Tamil name Koṟṟavai, the Victorious, while showing, at the same time, that her story is replete with Sanskrit references.4 This avatar of Durgā who stands naked between Krishna and Skanda in the Harivaṃśa, and as scantily clad between Krishna and Bāṇa in the Bhāgavatam (X, 63, 20-21) is cited again in the 8th c. Kuvalayamālā by Uddyotanasuri (completed in 779), in a list of places where brahminical hymns are sung. The edition provided by A. N. Upadhye contains a note by V. S. Agrawala which deserves careful attention: “In this list, mention of Kottajjaghara is most important as Koṟṟavai was the most ancient goddess of Tamil land whose worship has spread to many centres in North India as far as the Himalaya where, at Kottai Garh, in Almora District, there was a shrine dedicated to her. She is mentioned in Bāṇa’s Harśacarita as a nude woman.5 According to the Vāmaṇa purāṇā, Koṟṟavai was the name of an ancient goddess at Hingulas in Baluchistan,6 who was later renamed Hani by Scythians, and Carcika by Hindus, during the Gupta period. It is gratifying to note that Uddyotanasuri refers to the shrine of Koṟṟavai [Kottajja]. In the Desinamālā (12th c.), Kotta is given as the name of Parvati (2, 35) which seems to have been due to a later religious synthesis of Goddess’ name”.7 This excursus, far from being superfluous here, is essential to us for it insists, from the very start, that, regarding Indian realities, we must always consider what unites them and not what opposes them to one another. This is what we always attempted to do, specifically when publishing our French annotated translation of the oldest religious hymns dedicated to Murukaṉ in Tamil, the Paripāṭal.

  • 8 Etudes sur les lieux saints célèbres du Dieu Muruka­, thèse de 3ème Cycle Paris III Sorbonne Nouvel (...)

4The first intriguing question raised by the work of Aruṇakirinātar, which consists exclusively of poems celebrating Murukaṉ, is how, after a period of six to eight centuries, he brilliantly revived the Caṅkam tradition of singing of Murukawhile both the relative absence and the resilience of the god in Tamil literature throughout the interval remain unexplained. The Caṅkam poems sang of Murukaṉ and Krishna (Tirumāl), and hardly mentioned Siva. The Bhakti literature which followed shared, on the other hand, its two more important corpuses between Vishnu and Siva, where the latter is only very occasionally referred as the father of Skanda- Murukaṉ. A few stanzas of invocation to which no date is assigned (Kuṟuntokai, Kallāṭam...), a few unobtrusive allusions in the Tēvāram, and, as regards the remaining corpus of Tirumuṟai, a single poem in Tiruvicaippā: for the most celebrated god of the Caṅkam age, this amounts to very little. The archaeology and iconography of Tamil Nadu reinforce the impression: nothing is found in the early Tamil middle ages as could be equated with the flowering of images and temples of Subrahmanya around the end of the Cōḻa period, not to speak of their proliferation in modern times. A Ph. D. thesis submitted in July 1979 by M. Souppouramaniane on the main shrines of Murukaṉ in Tamil Nadu8 sounds more like a pilgrim’s guide than an archaeological tour: the antiquity proclaimed for the sites conflicts with the recent edifices that constitute them, and make it difficult to imagine the intensive activity of the archaic period suggested by a few inscriptions, literary quotations and rare genuinely ancient archaeological remains.

  • 9 An evidence of the extension of this popularity is the “First International Conference Seminar on S (...)

5No exhaustive inventory has been made, but a few early archaeological sites, between 9th and 12th c., are important enough to suggest that, in some of them, Subrahmanya might have been upgraded from his place as an attendant of Siva to be worshipped as the main deity. Another point which may at first sight appear trivial is of real significance here. The Tamil Vaishnava literature of the āḻvār and, with more details, the commentaries on them, refer in terms of erotic themes to unorthodox practices, such as consumption of meat or alcohol, acts of possession, exorcism etc., which inevitably recall certain aspects of the cult of Murukaṉ during the more ancient period; but such behaviours are now linked by them only with the cult of Cāttaṉ, alias Sāstā, or Aiyaṉār, and no longer with Murukaṉ or Subrahmanya. The latter is from there on considered as the Son of Siva, just as the Tēvāram addresses him, and he has become a respectable god, integrated to the more orthodox cult, as prescribed by the agamic Sanskrit treatises of that period which had started to pay some attention to him. Even if few of the texts of “Tamil” Saivasiddhānta say much about him, there are important exceptions, such as the Tirumantiram, to which Aruṇakirinātar makes many implicit references and where a few stanzas, loaded with meaning, insist on his identity with his father (such as, 501, 1002 or 2712, in SISS numeration); on the other hand, the Tamil literature from the Cōḻa period dealing with secular matters is rich enough in allusions to Murukaṉ. New poems in praise of Murukaṉ might therefore be expected at the time when his iconography was developing to the extent of becoming stereotyped, and more and more temples were being dedicated to him. After the 15th c. that trend reached its full amplitude and, from then on it would cater, in terms of quantity if not always of quality, to the devotion of the masses, in Tamil Nadu and in Tamil communities all over South and South-East Asia.9

  • 10 A glimpse at the mastery of all musical technicalities expressed in his own words by Aruṇakirinātar (...)

6The poems of Aruṇakirinātar correspond to this ascending phase from 13th to 15th c.; we cannot say that he initiated it, but he contributed to its development in a way which amply justifies focusing on his work. Two points are essential: firstly, he played a major part in imposing a new style, mixing Sanskrit and Tamil vocabulary, and adding to the rules of prosody new constrains based on tāḷa (cantam), a rhythm, in which the tempo of long and short syllables creates a metric repetitive pattern which is more rigorous and better adapted to singing; secondly, in the field of music, his work offered literally hundreds of opportunities for such new patterns of rhythm to be sung and is therefore a major landmark between the old style of the Tēvāram system of paṇ and the musical revival of 17th and 18th c., led by the great composers of “Carnatic” music and later kīrttaṉai. It is up to musicians to decide who is the true forefather of Carnatic music, Aruṇakirinātar or Purandara Dasa, or both.10

7The prominent and continuing practice of singing the songs of his Tiruppukaḻ (Eulogies in praise of Murukaṉ) in the temples and principal sanctuaries of Murukaṉ has made Aruṇakirinātar immensely popular in perpetuity. According to his puranic legend he spent a part of his life visiting the sanctuaries of Murukaṉ all over Tamil Nadu as the Tēvāram trio visited the temples of Siva, and the way he covered that sacred geography of Tamil Nadu compares quite well with the sacred geography of the Tēvāram hymns.

8We have, however, devoted most of this year’s lectures to the study of two other texts, the Kantar anupūti, of which only the first part (51 stanzas) is authentic while the continuation quoted in many popular editions is not to be considered, and the Kantar alaṅkāram. These two poems are, in fact, as popular as the Tiruppukaḻ and were promptly edited as small books and brochures more than half a dozen times in the 19th c. as soon as Tamil printing became popular. The first is considered as summarising the quintessence of the mystic experience of Aruṇakirinātar, while the second is a viaticum, a kind of precious asset, learned by heart by many devotees as it is supposed to emphasise the omnipresence of Murukaṉ, thereby allowing for the conjuration of the phantasms of death that the cruel god Yama and his infernal emissaries incarnate. The poet himself urges his listeners:

“You were not studying unfailingly and with love the poems
To the One with sharp spear who halted and destroyed rebirth.
Will it be on the day when Kūṟṟaṉ (Yama), boiling with rage, spitting smoke, eyes like a stirred up fire,
Pulls the slipknot his lasso made around your neck, that you will study my poems?”
(st. 2; see also st. 27 & 56)

9Even more daring, he braves the god of death, and stands facing him:

“O murderer, riding your vicious buffalo! I won’t leave you before I see your back
And cut you off, for everybody to know! I am standing in the sacred presence
Of the Lord with the red spear which victoriously fought the cruel Cūraṉ (an
On guard! Come out! It’s the sword of Shakti I’m holding in my hand!”
(st. 64; see also st. 50, 69, 107 etc.)

10No translation can do justice to the numerous alliterations in the original, nor to the subtle variations of the vocabulary which mixes together: 1) the usual Sanskrit terminology of Saivasiddhanta, 2) a selection of rare words from the Tamil old classics, and 3) a more “relaxed” or “soft” register, on the edge of the spoken language but still perfectly controlled. As such, Kantar alaṅkāram is considered rather easy to read, even though the author sometimes gives way to the temptation to surprise us, as when, at the end of a stanza in which, after praying to the Lord to grace him with “the desire to praise Him in pure Tamil” he abruptly goes on with a puzzling coda only a Sanskrit expert could read:

...paṇi pāca caṅkrāma paṇā makuṭa
nikarāṭ camapaṭca paṭci turaṅka nṛupakumarā
kukarāṭ cacapaṭca viṭcōpa tīra kuṇatuṅkaṉē
(st. 52)

11“O Lord on the winged steed which nourishes itself on the restive crowd, crowned with hood, a nod of warring snakes, O Kumara, O Guha, O hero with eminent qualities who confuses the rakshasa!”

12That is not at all the usual vocabulary to designate, in Tamil, Murukaṉ’s mount, the peacock, which devours snakes, the snakes being also a possible illustration of the many attachments one has to get rid of. Further, the Tamil writing system here hardly dissimulates about the direct borrowing from Sanskrit, including the grammatical sandhi rules. This is only an extreme example, because Aruṇakirinātar usually uses the specific sounds of Sanskrit simply to improve the melody of his verses, and his Sanskrit vocabulary mainly consists of echoes of cultural reminiscences for the lettered to enjoy.

  • 11 A. L. Basham gives in The Wonder that was India, (p. 433) a classical example of an ekākṣara stanza (...)

13But “lettered” here actually means bilingual: the age of Tiruppukaḻ is an epoch in which Sanskritisation was flourishing, as Villiputtūrār, the author of a complete Tamil version of the Mahabharata, attests. The parallel between the two poets is a classic commonplace as is their legendary rivalry, not on religious grounds but in terms of oratorical performance. The story goes that Villiputtūrār, who had the regrettable and quite “Ubuesque” habit of having the ears of his defeated challengers cut off, found himself in great danger of losing his own when facing Aruṇakirinātar, as he failed, not only to compose a stanza ekākṣara, that is containing only one consonant: t in the present case, but even to discern the meaning of the stanza proposed by Aruṇakirinātar. Such a stanza does exist, included as stanza 54 of the poem Kantar antāti, the masterpiece of Aruṇakirinātar’s virtuosity. According to the rules, each stanza in this type of poem starts with the same sounds that end the previous one, and the last one ends with an echo of the opening words of the poem. The genre is widespread in Tamil literature, but Aruṇakirinātar chose to make it more difficult here by using, for all the assonances of its 400 lines, only two consonants, t and c, and by carrying the homophony (yamaka) on much farther than required by the initial rhyme. Such an exercise in virtuosity is very common in Sanskrit poetry11 and not uncommon in Tamil, but it resorts less to genuine poetry than to a formal sensuous pleasure which was also the game of the French tradition of the “Grands Rhétoriqueurs”, interestingly almost contemporaries of Aruṇakirinātar.

  • 12 “Give and Take: Sanskrit Poetry in context” in Indian Horizons, vol. 44, no 4, 1995, Special issue, (...)
  • 13 V. 38, in Antāti-k-kottu ed. by T. Chandrasekharan, Madras (MGOMS no 51), 1956, p. 94.

14In an article12 Friedhelm Hardy has given several examples of such virtuosity in Sanskrit as well as in Tamil. He quotes a stanza13 quite similar to Aruṇakirinātar’s, extracted from another antāti, the Tiruvevvuḷūr antāti, in praise of Sri Vira Raghavaperumal, presiding deity in the temple of that place, better known as Trivellore, in Chinglepet district. Nothing is known about the author, named in the last stanza as Nārāyaṇatācaṉ. But Hardy does not make the correlation with Aruṇakirinātar, though it is obvious that this later work is a re-handling or reprocessing of Aruṇakirinātar’s exploit, but within a different religious obedience: more than once during the pre-modern period in Tamil literature, we find some Vaishnava scholars duplicating literary achievements already famous in Saiva lore, most often purely as an exercise in literary virtuosity. This one is an indirect tribute to the fame of Aruṇakirinātar. (See the two verses and their translation in the appendix.)

15Another challenge to the formal talent of poets consists in writing a poem in the format of an eḻukūṟṟirukkai, which resembles the pyramid-like structure of the processional temple chariots and where the numerals one to seven occur in the text progressively in ascending, (and sometimes then in descending), order (1, 1-2-1, 1-2-3-2-1, 1-2-3-4-3-2-1, etc.). A few samples are known, one from the Tēvāram of Ñā­acampantar and one song of the most versatile of the Vaishnava āḻvār, Tirumaṅkai, one song of Nakkīrar in the 11th Tirumurai, and later scholarly compositions, written for the sole purpose of illustrating the genre in grammatical treatises, as in the Vaishnava Maṟaṉ alaṅkāram. Of course, Aruṇakirinātar composed one; it has originality, however: it is very terse and happens to be the shortest, only 27 lines as against 46 or 47 for the best known, as if, having shown off his mastery with a flick of the wrist, the poet was suggesting that he had better things to do with his talent in terms of real poetry.

16In fact, the literary achievement of Aruṇakirinātar is rooted in a literary tradition of the middle and late Cōḻa empire, which does not attract much attention from Western specialists perhaps because the new elements it adds to our knowledge are fewer than the staggering verbal feats. Nevertheless, that literature is important and has its stalwart practitioners, one of whom was Poyyāmoḻi Pulavar, “the poet whose words never fail”, author of the Tañcaivāṇaṉ kōvai, written for a Tancavur Prince, probably a contemporary of Maṟavarmaṉ Kulacēkara Pāṇṭiyaṉ (1260-1308), and illustrating the most comprehensive medieval treatise on love poetry, the Nampi Akapporuḷ. A similar formal accomplishment is the beautiful Tiruccentūrppiḷḷaittamiḻ by Pakaḻikkūttar, perhaps a contemporary of Poyyāmoḻi, who also sang of Murukaṉ. Of later date, though this is a matter of contention, the Kanta purāṇam of Kacciyappa Civācāriyār might well be closer in time to the Tiruppukaḻ: here again is a major work of great formal beauty dedicated to Murukaṉ. The Sanskrit text supposed to be its source of inspiration is quite run of the mill and more recent; the Tamil poem sounds better and is likely to be the original work. It should also be remembered that this literary tradition, far from ending with Aruṇakirinātar, was continued by the devotional works of Tāyumāṉavar, who also contrasts the love of God with the pleasure to be had with women, and Rāmaliṅkar himself, both these also employing their quota of Sanskrit vedantic vocabulary.

17If we now look at the religious and philosophical content of the two poems we have selected, it is clear that the Bhakti of Aruṇakirinātar is based upon the general principles of Saivasiddhanta and mixes a pan-Indian Saiva mythology with a regional geography which, mostly in his hymns, supplies each site with its local history or legends in order to nurture a uniform religious fervour. His lyricism operates in a context where the supreme God is no longer Siva, but Murukaṉ. To describe him with all his appurtenances (alaṅkāram), names, exploits, attributes, ornaments, spouses, divine parenthood are again and again listed in endless variations. This is, in some sense, a Tamil equivalent of the dhyāna śloka, familiar in Agamic literature. It aims at impregnating the mind and heart of the devotee with the descriptions and evocations of the divine Presence which only then can be effective against ignorance, evil, and death. The prayer addressed to Murukaṉ is within the vocabulary of Tamil imagery, reflecting its temples, rivers and other landscapes, but it can also be more abstract and speculative. Then the inexpressible takes on the garb of much repeated contrastive formulae, which only the astonishing Tamil musicality protects from the commonplace. It must be read aloud:

Uruvāy aruvāy uḷatāy ilatāy
Maruvāy malarāy maṇiyāy oḷiyāyk
Karuvāy uyirāyk katiyāy vitiyāyk
Kuruvāy varuvāy aruḷvāy kuka­ē
(Kantar anupūti, st. 51)

“O you form and formless, being and nothingness,
Flower and fragrance, gem and brilliance
Germ and life, way and fate,
O master, come, grace us, O Guha!”

18Murukaṉ is “the master of the joy of knowing” (K. an. 50), because he himself taught Siva (ibid. 41) and Brahma (ibid. 36) the most secret wisdom but he remains, nevertheless, beyond the reach of any communicable experience, he alone being the one who bestows the Civayōka (ibid. 46) which can fulfil the poet’s aspiration, but only once such a poet knows how to create the absolute void freed from passions and illusions. The poet must therefore “abolish the ego in the detachment from everything” (ibid. 2); so he exhorts his own soul:

“Through wisdom which is patience, it’s your pride
You will uproot entirely” (ibid. 37).

19Among other things to be eradicated, are sensuous desires, mundane wealth, domestic illusions and the snares of women. Quite sensitive to women’s charms, the poet praises them at least as much as he vituperates them, in almost the same words and visions:

  • 14 That is Vaḷḷi, the mountain maiden who is one of the two wives of Murukaṉ.

“By the grace of the Lord of She who lives on the mountain slopes,14
With the raft of the firmness of my unshakeable mind, I crossed the ocean of burning passions
Which spreads over the h
Over their bamboo-like shoulders, inside their navel, over their breast.” (K. al. 29)

20This stanza, and many like it, have been read as personal allusions and have contributed to the legend of Aruṇakirinātar as a repentant libertine. Such descriptions belong, however, to literature, and original accents are found, as well, on the theme of liberation through asceticism, exhortations to share one’s wealth, or to give alms, even “half a broken grain of rice” (K. al. 18), a share of food which will come back “as a viaticum on the road of endless waiting” (K. al. 51) The futility of wealth is often emphasised (ibid. 49, for example), sometimes with elegance:

“Just as the useless shade of your body won’t protect you from the heat,
Goods in your hands will also be useless for the ultimate journey” (ibid. 18)

21Material obstacles, thick “as the Vindhya forests” (K. an. 33) are not the only ones on the path of self-realisation; the others are simply “mental diversion” (ibid.); knowledge is reached “without knowing how to catch it”, in a state of the mind where “worldly attachment, speech, thought, and even knowledge and ignorance have ceased to exist.” (ibid. 42).

22Ultimately, “the experience of wisdom is born without words” (K. an. 43) through Murukaṉ’s grace. It comes through a dazzling experience of complete solitude and vacuum, given over to an absolute void which has no beginning; that is, a revelation across space, a true vision on the mountain (K. al. 8) better defined by whatever it is not (ibid. 9): “one remains speechless, having lost everything, telling that there is nothing to say.” (ibid. 10), because “the proper knowledge of what resides in the absolute solitude, is it possible to communicate it to others also?”(K. an. 49). The poet himself is really just a bawler (ibid. 38) condemned to lose his head by dint of vociferating poems (ibid. 32), caught between contradictory fits of madness which blind him and take him away from God, who withholds his grace, and from the unique experience within which, overjoyed by that very grace, he has no way other than silence to express himself, unless it is his God himself who speaks through his mouth, freely using, through him as the instrument, the very knowledge which he has bestowed (K. an. 28).

“O permanent ambrosia, O King with sharp spear,
Abode of Wisdom, can I dare to tell it:
Having swallowed of me the whole of me, Alone,
True to himself, only the Supreme remains.” (K. an. 28)

  • 15 K. Zvelebil, Journal of Tamil Studies, vol. 2 (1977), p. 101.

23Without meandering through the specific Tamil landscape of the devotion to the god Murukaṉ, and without the weight of the poems’ philosophico-religious verbal heritage, we recognise that the works of Aruṇakirinātar, and specifically the stanzas of his Kantar anupūti, belong in the eternal firmament of universal mysticism. In the legend, the spirit of the poet forever resides under an inaccessible banyan tree on the northern slope of the Tiruvaṇṇāmalai Hill, Aruṇācala, teaching through silence.15

  • 16 Supplemented by his Aruṇakirinātar varalāṟum nūlārāycciyum, 1947.

24Paradoxically, this inaccessible master, whose teaching is silence (maunadīkṣā), is also the one whose songs most often resound in temple courtyards and whose popularity has inspired the most prolific modern exponents. Ki. Va. Jagan-natan has devoted no less than twenty volumes of lectures to Kantar alaṅkāraṉ alone and another book of 560 pages to the elucidation of Kantar anupūti (1959, 2nd ed. 1978). Kirupāṉanta vāriyār, a very popular religious orator who endlessly taught and preached, wrote a book on each of these two works, both having reached their 6th edition at the time we were lecturing, in addition to innumerable speeches exposing their content. However, the edition of his complete works by V. Cu. Cenkalvaraya Pillai, in six volumes, even if not exactly a critical edition, remains the best monument because it is accompanied by very useful notes and indices.16

  • 17 Quiescence and Passion, The vision of Aruṇakiri Tamil mystic, Madurai Kamaraj University, 1984, pp. (...)
  • 18 The Tiruppukaḻ is now quite popular on the Internet and the article online “Aruṇakirinātar” by V. N (...)

25That edition which had been a family affair over two generations pertains, to an extent, to the hagiography of the poet, and allows sceptical minds to suggest, without much substantial evidence, that some of the songs collected might be apocryphal. This only means that the tradition of the singing of Tiruppukaḻ in temples has not been properly recorded so far; but Fred Clothey is, in a way, justified in extending his vision of “Aruṇakirinātar’s revival” during the 20th c. from that monumental publication to a modern anecdotal figure of the mendicant saint, Tiruppukaḻ Caccitāṉantaṉ Swami (Nov. 1870-Nov. 1950).17 The next step would be to subscribe to the remark of “one American observer”, who identified the singer of Tiruppukaḻ, Madurai Somu, as the “Mahalia Jackson” of Tamil Nadu. This typical foreign “anthropological” approach to the Tamil tradition throws overboard the entire heritage of philosophico-religious Tamil lyric poetry, but it draws the attention of the philologist towards the many components of the modern devotion to Murukaṉ. While the literati still appreciate the virtuosity of the poet or enjoy his astrological enigmas, the crowds of common worshipers have been assembling, since the 1980’s, on the Kirivalam’s path for the pradakṣiṇa around the Hill of Tiruvannamalai, where some hymns of Aruṇakirinātar are sung, while the audience can buy them on CD-audio18 and discover their author in the popular pocket-novel written about him in 1998 by Balakumaran.

26So far, we have not ventured to discuss the date of Aruṇakirinātar, which remains a tricky problem insofar as it depends both on Tamil and Sanskrit data, which very few authors have attempted to compare. Apart from a few short inscriptions with which we will deal later, Tamil sources are legendary in the essentials: a legend which is easily identified as an amplification of some, not so very autobiographical, details culled from the work of the poet itself. Not surprisingly, the oral tradition, episodes of a more elaborate puranic narration, and a few quotations from the poems all tell the same story. Briefly, the life of the poet progresses from licentiousness during his youth into destitution, sickness and poverty, from which his sister attempts in vain to save him whenever he shamelessly calls for help, until sick and obsessed by suicide, he throws himself from the northern tower of the Tiruvannamalai temple. Rescued by the god Murukaṉ himself, who also dictates to him his first verse, he becomes the eulogist and minstrel of Murukaṉ exclusively and ends his life as a beautiful parrot on the arm of the god, in Tiruttani, another main shrine of Murukaṉ.

27The same story is retold with more or less the same content in two recent puranic versions by one author, Murukatācar, alias Caṅkaraliṅkam, alias Tiruppukaḻcuvāmi, alias Tantapanicuvami (c. 1840-1900), in only 82 stanzas, as a chapter of the Pulavarpurāṇam, and, in nine chapters, in the Aruṇakirinātacuvāmikaḷpurāṇam.

  • 19 Aruṇācala purāṇam by Ellappa Pupati, alias Kāliṅkarāyaṉ Uṇṇāamulai Ellappanāyaṉār (1542-1580?), and (...)

28These are, unfortunately, purely hagiographic works which two other slightly more “historical” Tamil puranic texts, dedicated to the temple of Tiruvannamalai, and both dated from the second half of the 16th c.,19 do not substantially corroborate; and neither do the few brief allusions found in literary sources.

29On the other hand, a series of local medieval chronicles in Sanskrit, especially the Vibhāgapatramālā, made it possible to establish a likely genealogical sequence of a dynasty of court poets linked with Vijayanagar rulers, the Dindima Kavi. They are supposed to have issued from the 21 families into which eight Saiva Brahmins of different Gotras became divided after they were taken by a Cōḻa king from Varanasi to his country and settled in Mettapadi in North Arcot Dt. Among them, one Aruṇakirināta, born in Kali era 4400, that is 1299 CE, is orphaned, is illtreated by the wife of his uncle Somanata and runs away to Puttūr, taking refuge in a Siva temple where he receives the gift of poetry, thanks to which he finally becomes a friend of the ruler Praudhadevaraya from whom he receives the title of Dindima Sarvabhauma kavi, and a place where a temple and an agraharam are established. As a result, his family gave several poets to the Court of Vijayanakar. In 1918, in The Indian Antiquary, Gopinatha Rao exploits those data to conclude that this Praudhadevaraya was the Hoysala king Ballala III (1292-1342).

  • 20 1937, we quote the reprint of 1970, pp. 220-225.

30However, M. Krishnamachariar, the author of an authoritative History of Sanskrit Literature20 summarises the Sanskrit tradition in a coherent genealogical table which overlooks completely the Tamil poet and identifies that Aruṇakirināta I as the son of one Rajanatha I and Apirāmi Ampikā; he bears the title of Dindima kavi, is the author of a farce narrating the love affair of an ascetic with a fallen married woman, the Sommavalliyogananda, and his date is then fixed by a supposed correlation with the reign of Devaraya II (1422-1448).

  • 21 “The Dindima Poets and Aruṇakirināta of the Tiruppukaḻ”, in Dr. S. Krishnaswami Aiyangar Commemorat (...)
  • 22 “Some Poets of the Dindima Family”, in A volume of Studies in Indology, to P. V. Kane, Poona, 1941; (...)

31An effort had been made already, in 1936, by C. V. Narayana Aiyar21 to correct Gopinatha Rao. Instead of Ballala III, why not his son Viravijaya Virupaksa eponymous with the new capital of Ballala founded in Hospet in 1340? The meeting with the poet should have taken place between 1340 and 1342, but the author of the Sanskrit farce was in fact the grandfather of Aruṇakirināta, and C. V. Narayana Aiyar shifts the date and synchronism proposed by Krishnamachariar to the grandson, born between 1350 and 1355, whom he identifies as the author of Tiruppukaḻ. His demonstration has since been corrected and improved upon by A. N. Krishna Aiyangar in a series of articles22 from which we get the impression that our Aruṇakirinātar is really the poet born in 1299, except that this date is wrong and should be brought back by one century, to 1399. Though much Sanskrit erudition has been employed by the two authors, a general feeling of pure speculation remains, partly due to uncertainties about dates and the authorship of some of the Sanskrit chronicles involved. But the most essential criticism is that these Sanskrit data do not give any detail on the life and work of the Tamil poet. Further, as far as the latter is concerned, not only does the synchronism with Praudhadevaraya, quoted in Tiruppukaḻ1056, not take us anywhere as there are several candidates for that royal title, from 1406 to 1485, but, to mention the most important detail, everyone forgets: this synchronism is, in fact, based only on a legendary episode of the poet’s hagiography!

32More correlations have indeed been looked for in Tamil epigraphic texts. One rather late epigraph (M.E.R. No 397, 1911, dated 1550 CE), from Mullandram in North Arcot, alias Praudhadevarayapuram, which was cited by M. R. Aiyangar, associates the name of Dindima Kavi with one Aṇṇāmalainātar identified with the author of Tiruppukaḻand remains the first clue: a Brahmin woman, descended from one Aṇṇāmalainātar who was a Dindima kavi, has a shrine built in the temple of the village to him, to honour her husband, bearing the same name and title. Two other earlier epigraphs, however, create extra “genealogical” problems. One, dated 1370 CE (M.E.R. 56-1900), is tantalising for those who take the Vibhāgapatramālā quite seriously: it seems to attest to the existence of a possible uncle of our Aruṇakirinātar, a certain Somanāta, as head of a temple in a maṭam in Puttūr.

  • 23 See the Tamil article of R. Nagaswamy in the Collection of essays offered to V. Cuppaiya Pillai, Ma (...)

33Lastly, one inscription, which is also the oldest, (S.I.I. VIII, 89, is dated “Saka expired 1262”, that is 1341CE, precisely on the 21st of January and under the reign of the Hoysala Sri Vīra Vaḷḷāḷa-dēvar); written on the north wall of the second prākāra of the temple of Tiruvannamalai, it deals with a gift of land made by one Campantāṇṭār, a temple manager (kōyil-ketku) of that temple to the bhattar of an agraharam, and gives after his own signature, among others, two signatories, one Cōmanātatēvaṉ, and one Italaikkōpāti Periyanāyaṉ Aruṇakiri cīyaṉ. As a complement to this inscription, the corpus of Tiruvaṇṇāmalai inscriptions published by P. R. Srinivasan adds one more epigraph on the same wall, but outside, west of the middle part of Vaikuntha-dvara, that is unfortunately damaged; its date, February 20, 1341, is very close to the previous one, and it also records gifts to the same bhattar. Among the signatories Campanta­ and [….]nāyaṉ Aruṇikiri[ttiyar] again figure. Is this happy conjunction of three proper names attached to the same family, and is Tiruvaṇṇāmalai enough of a basis on which to draw a conclusion? R. Nagaswamy thought so, reminding us that all these data agree with the version of the Vibhāgapatramālā and he concluded that the date of the Tiruppukaḻ is the first half of the 14th c.23 But it will always be possible to cover the period from 1300 to 1550 with the six generations of Dindima kavi, the available indications of that genealogy being too vague for us to decide if the first Kavi of the family is the Tamil poet, instead of placing him two generations later, or perhaps even more, since the attribution to him of the Virabhadravijaya, by P. T. Sambandan, complicates the issue. Research is going on, both on Tiruvaṇṇāmalai inscriptions and on Sanskrit Kāvyā connected with the Vijayanagara dynasties, but without further results one cannot really speak, as R. N. Sampath does, of “Fresh light on the author of Tiruppukaḻ”.

34It remains clear that the Tamil legends of Aruṇakirinātar have little credit and are not attested to at an early date in Tamil literature itself; particularly, the moot point of his Veḷḷāḷa origins as opposed to his brahminical lineage is one more bone of contention. One should probably better attempt to trace the posthumous history of Aruṇakirinātar and his poems. On the other hand, no clear evidence can be seen to date in the collected Sanskrit sources; it is, nevertheless, beyond doubt that Aruṇakirinātar, like many other members of his family, real or imaginary, was born to become a poet laureate in Tamil and that he knew Sanskrit at least well enough at least to write a humorous prahasanam.



One can compare the stanza 54 of Kantar antāti by Aruṇakirinātar which reads:

Titattattat tittat tititātai tātatut tittattitā
Titattattat titta titittitta tētuttu tittittattā
Titattattat tittattai tātati tētutai tātatattu
Titattattat tittittitītī titituti tītottatē

with the stanza 38 of Tiruvevvuḷūr antāti quoted by Friedhelm Hardy:

Titatta tatitu tataitū titattotta tētittittē
Tutitta tattatta tutaitūtu tattuttat tottatitat
Tutitta tutaittatī tātā tatitatat tōtattatta
Tatitta tutittatot tittuttit tattatta tātitittē

With the help of the old commentary, attributed by the tradition to Villiputtūrār himself, we proposed the following French translation of Aruṇakirinātar’s stanza:

Le Père qui garde la cadence ‘titattat tattittat’, le Créateur,
Celui qui se tient sur le Serpent capelé, sur l’ Océan gonflé
Et goûta – ô douce saveur – le caillé, T’adorent, ô Primordial,
Bonheur suprême, Servant de la perruche de l’éléphant dentu!
Qu’au jour où le feu brûlera ce sac à os lieu de tous les maux, naissance,
Mort, éléments malins, mon esprit qui T’adore Te rejoigne!

In other words: worshipped by dancing Siva, (the/his) Father, Brahma, the Creator, and Vishnu-Krishna, both the cosmic god and the prancing child, the supreme God Murukaṉ, haven of happiness, husband of Tēvayāṉai, (the parrot brought up by the tusker Airāvata), is invoked and requested to welcome the mind of the poet who worships Him, on the day the funeral pyre will burn his body, that bag of bones bound to pains of birth, death and pangs-giving seven elements.

Friedhelm Hardy has translated the second citation: “O God [Vishnu] who [as Krishna] ate the curds that had been hidden and [then] were most appropriate for the proclamation of the message of salvation [viz., the Bhagavadgita]! You grant boons and are [therefore] praised with well-sounding words. You are the transcendental reality, and you recline on the ocean, your mighty chest smudged with the pollen [from Laksmi’s flower-garland]. Everything receives meaning from you [as Krishna] you danced on the spotted [hoods of the serpent Kāliya], in the rhythm ‘tātitta tutittatu’. Great fear is overpowering my body that is filled with pain: may your steps kick this fear far away and save me, your dog, who is loyal to you!”


1 Mouton, The Hague, 1978.

2 Pondicherry, PIFI, 1978.

3 Un texte de la religion kaumara, le Tirumurukarrupatai, Pondicherry, PIFI, 1973.

4 Filliozat, work quoted, p. XXVIII.

5 Actually it is by a gloss, in ch. VI, at the end, p. 201, Nirnaya Sagar Press edition, Bombay, 1897.

6 In fact, in ch. 49, 46-47, the goddess Carcika is said to reside on mount Haingulata.

7 1970, Vol.2, n. 121 to vol. 1, pp. 82-30.

8 Etudes sur les lieux saints célèbres du Dieu Muruka­, thèse de 3ème Cycle Paris III Sorbonne Nouvelle, 1979.

9 An evidence of the extension of this popularity is the “First International Conference Seminar on Skanda Murukaṉ”, 28-31 December 1998. See the multifaceted Souvenir published by the Institute of Asian Studies on the occasion.

10 A glimpse at the mastery of all musical technicalities expressed in his own words by Aruṇakirinātar can be found in a good article of T.S. Parthasarathy “The music of the Tiruppugazh” in Readings on Indian Music, ed. by Gowrie Kuppuswamy & M. Hariharan, College Book House, Trivandrum, 1979, pp. 100-112. For a more technical study see the M.A. thesis of V. N. Muthukumar at Berkeley University, yet to be published. We thank him here for the communication of a pdf copy.

11 A. L. Basham gives in The Wonder that was India, (p. 433) a classical example of an ekākṣara stanza by Magha, on the letter d, but there d is used “only” 36 times, against 97 in Aruṇakirinātar’s stanza. However the 19th canto of the Śiśupālavadha of Magha (7th c.) accumulated such exercises.

12 “Give and Take: Sanskrit Poetry in context” in Indian Horizons, vol. 44, no 4, 1995, Special issue, Glimpses of Sanskrit Literature, (ed.) A. N. D. Haksar, ICCR, New Delhi, pp. 147-160.

13 V. 38, in Antāti-k-kottu ed. by T. Chandrasekharan, Madras (MGOMS no 51), 1956, p. 94.

14 That is Vaḷḷi, the mountain maiden who is one of the two wives of Murukaṉ.

15 K. Zvelebil, Journal of Tamil Studies, vol. 2 (1977), p. 101.

16 Supplemented by his Aruṇakirinātar varalāṟum nūlārāycciyum, 1947.

17 Quiescence and Passion, The vision of Aruṇakiri Tamil mystic, Madurai Kamaraj University, 1984, pp. 30-37.

18 The Tiruppukaḻ is now quite popular on the Internet and the article online “Aruṇakirinātar” by V. N. Karthikeyan is a fairly complete introduction to the poet and his work.

19 Aruṇācala purāṇam by Ellappa Pupati, alias Kāliṅkarāyaṉ Uṇṇāamulai Ellappanāyaṉār (1542-1580?), and different from Saiva Ellappa Navalar (17th c.); Aruṇakiri purāṇam by Maṟaiñāṉa Campantar who lived in Chidambaram c. 1550, and is different from his better known homonymous who lived in 13th c.

20 1937, we quote the reprint of 1970, pp. 220-225.

21 “The Dindima Poets and Aruṇakirināta of the Tiruppukaḻ”, in Dr. S. Krishnaswami Aiyangar Commemoration Volume, Madras, 1936.

22 “Some Poets of the Dindima Family”, in A volume of Studies in Indology, to P. V. Kane, Poona, 1941; “The Dindima Poets of Mullandram and the Kings of Vijayanagar”, in Annals of the B.O.R.I., vol. 23, 1942; see finally the Introduction to his edition of the Acyutarayabhyudaya, (sargas 7 to 12) Adyar, 1945.

23 See the Tamil article of R. Nagaswamy in the Collection of essays offered to V. Cuppaiya Pillai, Madras 1973. When publishing the two inscriptions as no 304-305 in the Corpus of Tiruvaṇṇāmalai Inscriptons, (Institut Français de Pondichéry), in 1990, the editor, P. R. Srinivasan simply ignored that hypothesis, cf. work quoted p. 79. A. Kamatchinathan had concluded a review of the attempts at a dating of Aruṇakirinātar as follows: “between the second half of the 14th century and the first quarter of the 15th century”, in “St. Aruṇakiri-His Age and Works” Āyvukkōvai VII, 1, 1975 pp. 74-79. K. Zvelebil discussed the problem at length (including the question of whether the poet was suffering from a stomach ulcer or from some venereal disease) several times, since The Smile of Murugan (1975) up to his Lexicon of Tamil Literature (1995) with relevant bibliography, but he reached no conclusion.

Notes de fin

1 This text slightly expands the annual report on the lectures delivered at EPHE in Paris by F. Gros during the academic year 1979-1980.

© Institut Français de Pondichéry, 2009

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